There was no miracle.
Years ago, soon after departing fulltime church work and its weekly sermonizing, meetings-in-the-evening, annual-reports-to-the-denomination obligations, I avoided getting hauled into the net of Mormonism.
I have my own private doubts about Biblical miracles. Sorry, it’s true. But as a Christian, I haven’t spent much time defending or denying that Jesus preformed miracles. I’m also not overly interested if Buddha or Krishna were involved with miracles. Regardless of which religion, please deliver me from explaining the—according to Mirriam-Webster’s 10th edition—“extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.”
However, I like that the word “miracle” is from the Latin, miraculum. A wonder, a marvel.
But Jesus walking on water? Water into wine? No, I’m too modern, too cynical, and too analytical to embrace miracles. I know that Jesus—like Muhammad after or all the Jewish Biblical prophets and priests before—lived in a time when miracles were part of daily life. Last month, my wall calendar noted a “total lunar eclipse” on the same Monday we celebrated Martin Luther King Day. Many witnessed the moon’s “disappearance.” Once, it would have been a divine intervention, an omen, or a miracle. Instead, eclipses have become predictable and understandable events. They are on our calendars! Though we 21st century dwellers know less than we think, we do know the hows and whys for lots of stuff.
However, every miracle I read about in the Gospels does instill wonder. A miraculum attitude, if you will. I don’t follow Jesus because, for example, he once smeared mud across the unseeing eyes of a fellow who, a moment later, looks around and recognizes the visual difference between green and blue or goats and camels. But the big catch of fish in Luke 5:1-11, miracle or not, challenges and strengthens my wondering and marveling.
I like how the story is set. Good old Peter, still known as Simon, is just a guy on a boat who had a lousy stretch of fishing. The early bird might catch the worm, but our future disciple apparently spent the late night and early morning with an empty net. Jesus, a landlubber and part-time preacher, instructed Simon where to try another cast of the net.
Whoa! Luke doesn’t mess around, when proclaiming:
“. . . they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break!”
What seems miraculous, certainly a wonder, sets the stage for more than the toss of a net. This Gospel scene is an enduring metaphor for “catching” future followers. Fishy disciples!
And so it was, one Sunday years ago, that I wore nice clothes (because their web page suggested it) to church. Compelled by proximity and curiosity, I worshipped at my neighborhood Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). It’s literally a nice stroll down the block. I walked in feeling a little like a fish out of water. I walked out still uncaught.
In the simple sanctuary, folks looked like other congregations where I’ve worshipped. They were old, young, singles, couples, teenagers, and parents. The bulletin included announcements about choirs, youth activities, addiction recovery meetings, and an upcoming “lunch full of laughter and good food.” Yum!
Everyone was darn friendly. Between handshakes, smiles, and numerous “I’m glad you’re here” comments, I was enthusiastically (and authentically) welcomed. The net was cast.
Though unable to sing a lick, I love lively music. Whether it’s J.S. Bach ala pipe organ or Kurt Kaiser’s 1969 “Pass It On” with keyboard and guitar, give me a tune to get my feet tapping and heart pounding. Perhaps it was only that Sunday, or that particular congregation, but their music was dismal. I’m a United Methodist. In our official hymnal, John Wesley (the 18th Century founder of Methodism) was quoted, “Sing lustily and with good courage.”
Communion was served. But it included store-bought tidbits of gummy white bread. Alas, I am a communion snob. (One of my many sins.)
But what jarred me most was when one speaker, with casual conviction, declared that the Latter-Day Saints were the “one true church.” First, I may have misheard. Second, it was the first time I had been at that worship service. Third, what do I know?
Nonetheless, does a Latter-Day Saint believe that? Does a Roman Catholic? Does a Sunni Muslim or a Zen Buddhist? Do I?
The LDS Church is a little fishy to me. It is not my tradition.
And yet I’d probably disappoint (or would even be condemned by) fellow Christians who literally believe in miracles. But still, as I read about and imagine Simon-soon-to-be-Peter, I am forever touched by his simple faith. In a sense, he fished “lustily and with good courage.” He was thankful. He was joyful. He had a great catch for the day, and there was a great miracle story to encourage future fishers of the faithful.
But let me tell you a secret. I actually believe in miracles: in a miraculum attitude. While I don’t think any particular faith tradition is the “one true church,” I have faith that one day we will realize, in the choice between condemning others who are different versus respecting others who are different, we will all find a lusty courage for diverse community. What a wonder and marvel that will be.
I was glad to have worshipped with the LDS congregation. Different than me? Yes. Bread that should be upgraded? You betcha!
But how much I remember, and was thankful for, their warm welcome.